Social media giant Facebook has more than one billion users
worldwide. As social media continues to increase in popularity,
employers have a greater need to monitor use of workplace
technology than ever before.
No one wants to discover employees' disparaging comments
online. Nor find evidence of staff intimidation in emails.
Employers monitor workplace technology to protect confidential
information, keep business reputation intact and improve workplace
productivity. Monitoring workplace technology can deter employees
from falling foul of their employment agreements on line.
Employers can refer to evidence of misconduct discovered on
social media, in staff disciplinary investigations. There have many
cases in New Zealand where staff use of social media has come into
the firing line. A government ministry was found to have
justifiably dismissed an employee who had described herself as
"very expensive paperweight", "highly competent in
the art of time wastage, blame shifting and stationary [sic]
theft" on Facebook.
Sick leave can be called into question, when Facebook shows
evidence of a 'sickie.' An employee was found justifiably
dismissed after his Facebook photograph at a sporting championship
while supposedly on sick leave sparked a disciplinary
Where there is suspected online bullying and harassment,
employers may need to investigate use of social media in order to
comply with their health and safety obligations.
Just how far can employers go in investigating staff use of
social media and workplace technology?
Employers can investigate social media and workplace technology
within the bounds of employment and privacy laws.
Employers must deal with their staff in good faith, which means
they need to be active and constructive in maintaining a productive
and communicative employment relationship.
This means employers should tell staff that they monitor
workplace technology, and provide staff with guidelines and
policies, so there are no surprises.
Provided policies are in place, employers are generally entitled
to examine employee's workplace emails on their system.
This may be limited where employees have a reasonable
expectation of privacy – such as where they are allowed
reasonable personal use of workplace emails, and a username and
password for their security.
Privacy obligations prevent an employer from overly zealous
snooping of workplace technology. A recent complaint to the Privacy
Commissioner highlights the importance of employers complying with
privacy law obligations, when investigating staff emails.
According to the Privacy Commissioner's Case Note, an
employer investigated an employee for misconduct, and accessed
information from the workplace computer as part of its
investigation. The Privacy Commissioner considered that the
employer could monitor staff use of the workplace computers because
the employment agreement and employee manual clearly allowed for
However, the employer went too far when it used information
collected from keystroke logging to access the employee's
personal web-based email account and copy several emails.
The Privacy Commissioner considered that information obtained by
keystroke logging went beyond what was relevant to the employment
investigation. Personal email accounts attract a high expectation
of privacy, and the collection of this information was unreasonably
intrusive. The policies were also not explicit enough: the employee
was not aware that his employer could collect information on his
This case emphasises the importance of stating in both
employment agreements and policies that workplace computers and
information technology will be subject to monitoring.
For best practice in monitoring social media and workplace
technology, employers should:
Require the employees' acknowledgement of monitoring of
workplace technology in staff employment agreements.
Provide staff with social media and information technology
policies. Set out clear guidelines about what is acceptable and
non-acceptable use of social media, the extent of monitoring, and
the potential consequences of breaching the social media policy.
Regularly review these policies, to keep up with changes in
Only access employee's social media sites that are publicly
available, or where managers have been invited to share the
Not read any obviously confidential emails, such as those to
and from a law firm, or any union-related communications.
Not befriend staff on Facebook for the purpose of snooping on
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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